What do Americans do all day and how do they feel while they’re doing it?

To answer these questions, Princeton economist Alan Krueger asked nearly 4,000 men and women to report what they’d done the previous day and rate (on a six-point scale) how pained, happy, sad, tired, interested, and stressed they felt during those activities. Kreuger divided their responses into six categories, determined by the type of activity and how people felt about it: unpleasant personal maintenance (e.g., medical care, taking care of finances), moderately enjoyable tasks (e.g., making routine purchases, using a computer), engaging leisure and spiritual activities (e.g., visiting with friends, listening to music), neutral downtime (e.g., watching TV, cooking), mundane chores (e.g., doing the dishes or laundry), and work-like activities (e.g., home repair, work).

Because participants could say they felt multiple emotions during the same activity—talking on the phone could make them happy and sad—Kreuger also developed a holistic measure of their happiness levels by subtracting an activity’s sad, stressed, and painful ratings from its happiness rating. He called the result the activity’s “net affect.”

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Kreuger presented his findings in a recent paper for the Brookings Institute, “Are We Having More Fun Yet?” It’s worth noting that the net affect scores are for men and women combined; ratings for each gender might show that men and women experience certain activities differently. Still, Kreuger’s results offer a detailed portrait of how Americans divide their time, what makes them happy, and how much time they’re actually spending on things that make them feel good.

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